Hardik Patel: India Patel caste leader freed on bail

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Hardik Patel addresses a press conference in Delhi on September 30, 2015Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Hardik Patel came into prominence last year when he led huge protests demanding quotas in government jobs for his community

Firebrand young Indian caste leader Hardik Patel, who was arrested and charged with sedition, has been freed after nearly nine months in jail.

Patel, 22, left the prison in Surat city on Friday morning.

He led huge caste protests in 2015, demanding quotas in government jobs for the Patel community.

He was arrested after footage appeared to show him telling supporters to "kill policemen rather than commit suicide". He said the video was doctored.

The Gujarat High Court bailed him last week in two sedition cases filed by the police in Ahmedabad and Surat cities.

Under the terms of the bail, Patel has to remain outside of Gujarat for six months.

Relatively unknown outside Gujarat, Patel came into prominence last year when he led the protests, demanding quotas for Patels, despite their relative prosperity.

Patel was arrested last October after police in Gujarat's largest city Ahmedabad accused him of inciting his supporters to resort to violence after the Patel community's massive rally in the city in August. Eight people were killed in the protests and the army was deployed to maintain peace.

He was later charged with sedition after video footage emerged showing him talking to a local youth, Vipul Desai, who had announced that he would kill himself in support of the protests.

"If you have so much courage... then go and kill a couple of policemen. Patels never commit suicide," The Times of India quoted Mr Patel as saying in the video.

Patel said he had been "misinterpreted" and that the recording was "doctored", but the Gujarat police said it was genuine and filed a case against him.

What do Patels want?

Image source, AP

Patels, who comprise some 20% of Gujarat's population, control India's thriving diamond cutting and polishing industry and are among the most prosperous businessmen and farmers in Gujarat.

But they complain that they are denied college places because of affirmative action to ensure those below them in India's complex social structure have access.

And they say they have been affected by a slowdown in small and medium industries in Gujarat which has led to a drying up of employment opportunities.

Patels are now demanding affirmative action and classification as Other Backward Classes (OBCs) so that they are entitled to quotas in state-run education centres and in government jobs.

OBC refers to the castes - in the middle of the Hindu caste hierarchy - who do not face so much exclusion or isolation in society but have been traditionally socially and economically disadvantaged.